Garage moves church to drive hard bargain

Agreement: Old St. Paul's downtown swapped land rights for a parking deal that congregation members are likely to regard as a blessing.

April 25, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

In the beginning, all Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church wanted was assurance that a mammoth, city-owned parking garage under development nearby would not block the sun from shining through its century-old, stained-glass window.

It will not get light, but after some tough bargaining, the landmark downtown church will not get rain, either.

In the most generous deal offered to the garage's neighbors, the city agreed yesterday to construction of a glass-covered walkway from the St. Paul Place garage to the church at a cost to taxpayers of $96,000. The church's congregation, estimated at 300 to 400, also will receive free parking on Sundays and spaces that cost $1 each on weekday afternoons.

The city is expected to charge a public rate of about $160 a month.

The church did not just have a tough negotiator in on the ground level. Turns out, it owned the ground. To be precise, it owned a 2,500-foot swath of alley in the garage footprint, or about 16 percent of the land.

"The piece of land really did seem to make the difference," said the Rev. David Cobb, the church rector, who leveraged the land to get the city's attention.

Cobb said he is not opposed to the 13-story garage to the east at 210 St. Paul Place. In fact, he expects the availability of parking to help boost the church's attendance. The walkway, which is still being designed, should be a boon to older members and parents of young children, he said.

"We're really pleased," Cobb said of the deal approved yesterday by the Board of Estimates. "Parking on the street was more or less of a challenge, depending on what else is going on downtown. ... Our only regret is that we have a really splendid stained-glass window that obviously will not be as brilliant in the future as it has been in the past."

Maitland Armstrong, a leading stained-glass maker of the 19th century, designed the centerpiece window of the current church building, constructed in 1856. The window was installed above the altar in 1902.

The city discovered the church's land stake during a routine title search and had to negotiate a deal to gain control of the property.

The city also made deals with other neighbors of the planned garage, including The Daily Record and the Downtown Partnership, each of which will get six parking spaces beginning at $50 apiece monthly and rising by $25 for four years, when market rates will kick in.

The Tremont Plaza hotel will receive parking rates of $3 a day per car on the top floor of the garage, said Irene E. Van Sant, project analysis director for Baltimore Development Corp., which negotiated the deals.

City officials promised about half of the garage's 519 parking spaces to neighboring business CitiFinancial Corp. if it agreed to expand its headquarters in Baltimore. CitiFinancial agreed to do so.

Construction of the garage is to begin next month, with the opening expected in 10 to 12 months.

Development officials originally offered the church $9,000 for its land but eventually offered the walkway, which Van Sant said could be used by the public.

She did not consider the parking a huge loss to the city coffers because the $15.5 million garage will be largely unused on weekends.

The deal expires only if the city sells the garage. The church has the right to match any offers to buy it.

Van Sant said the city could have condemned the land for the garage, but officials preferred to negotiate with neighbors - as they must do for nearly every city-sponsored development downtown.

"It was tough negotiations," she said. "But I think everyone got what they wanted."

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